Sunday, June 27, 2010

Flowers of the Eastern Free State

Even if we had been very lazy while camping at Glen Reenen in the Golden Gate National Park, and not set foot outside the camp, we would still have seen some striking flowers. Famously, the first flowers I noticed were the scarlet splashes of Hesperantha coccinea, Scarlet River Lily, well known and common here, but an amazement, to me. They belong to the large iris family, and are one of 12 genera occurring in this mountainous region alone.

This mallow opened early in the morning in a clump of tall grasses in the camp. The flower was 5" across. Hibiscus calyphyllus, I think, but corrections are welcome.

Below, clearly an orchid, and identified for me in a previous post as Habeneria caffra, though it looks a lot like H. dives (Death Orchid) to me...It also resembles H. falcicornus, to further frustrate an amateur like me. Also I can only find text describing caffra as a sub species...

This one, below, was photographed on a shady slope, the one above in full sun. I assume they are the same, though below resembles more closely H. dives than falcicornus, which has longer spurs... Yes, I know, I'm talking to myself.

In short: HELP!

Everlasting. Helichrysum, possibly H. adenocarpum. I thought I'd have no trouble ID'ing it as the buds are so distinctive, but all the pictures I referenced show only open flowers. These were growing on the slope above the campsite beneath Brandwag rock.

The beautiful, open flower.

Another papery Helichrysum, possibly H. herbaceum.

The kloof above camp was wooded and seemed to have escaped what must have been a fairly recent fire on the slopes.

These were the low trees that had been burned and which stood as charred sticks above the bright green grass: Leucosidea sericea, Old Wood, or Ouhout - already sprouting, and showing their membership of the family Roseacea in the leaves.

"The wood makes good, durable fence posts in permanently wet soil even though it is soft. Apparently in mountainous areas where the ouhout occurs near streams it is an indication that they are suitable for being stocked with trout. Zulu people use a paste made from the crushed leaves of Leucosidea sericea for treating ophthalmia (an eye ailment). The tree is used by the local people as a charm to protect the inhabitants of homesteads. The wood of this tree burns slowly and produces a lot of smoke like old and decaying wood..."

(From plantzafrica.)

An old friend. Kniphophia triangularis, I think - the slender, droopy tentshape and pure orange were new to me. It dotted the entire hillside, bright habanero splashes in the salsa verde grassland.

Vince adopting flower hunter position No 2.

Beautiful little spangly tangles of lobelias were clustered along the path all the way. Probably Lobelia flaccida. Horrible name for something so fragile.

This was a lovely shrub about two feet high: Lotononis lotonoides? Pea family, naturally.

Monopsis decipeans, lobelia lookalike.

Moraeas are easy to recognize and I had never seen one so spidery and fine. Moraea brevistyla, I think.

Easy! Carnationesque, hence Dianthus basuticus...

Yellow daisy. So many yellow daisies. I think it is Berkheya speciosa.

I thought this would be so simple to find in one of the books. But no. There were dozens, flat in the grass, conspicuous. What is it?

Back on higher ground, on one of our drives in the park, was another Kniphophia, more recognizable with its yellow skirt. K. thodei, I think.

Again, what I anticipated would be an easy identification, book in hand, but it eludes me. Gladiolus whatis? Not higher than 12 inches.

An erica. In the Free State! I had not known about this fynbos - restricted as I thought it was to the Western Cape - until now. But I don't know which erica it is. It was low-growing and profuse in the higher grasslands.

Ahem: Crassula vaginata. Yellow crassula. Dotted about every fifteen feet or so, they were very striking. Crassus = fleshy leaves, vaginata = sheathed. So there. Apparently the ground up roots are added to sour milk and used as famine food by the Zulu (Elsa Pooley).

This stunning and prickly plant is Berkheye cirsiifolia.

And of course, there were the grasses. Too hard for me at the moment.


Rick Darke (Encyclopedia of Grasses for American Landscapes - a gorgeous book) wrote to me recently, in response to an ID question from me, about the Highline, about his trip to South Africa in the 80's and 1993. He said he took thousands of slides and is tempted to dust them off for scanning. I hope he does. He said that after watching Disgrace he and his wife doubted that they would ever travel to SA again. Of course I had to write back immediately to try and undo some of the damage.

"JM Coetzee lives in Australia, you know, and appears to feel hopeless about the country in which he was born and of which he never felt a legitimate part. Understandable, but maudlin'. His books are a nightmare-moonscape, akin to McCarthy's The Road. [Except McCarthy only wrote the one, at the end of many other love songs for America.] At least that's my impression, Coetzee's brilliance notwithstanding. He is dismissive of - or perhaps just unresponsive to - natural beauty. His world is the Classical one. South Africa doesn't qualify."

I hope I succeeded in painting another view of the country.

Can anyone recommend a good grass book for this area?


  1. Love the scarlet hesperantha, the helichrysum, and the orange, droopy kniphophia.

    As for grasses, I always start with my Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. Then, I have

    Native Ferns Moss & Grasses by William Cullina -its not comprehensive, but includes NA grasses, good photos, and conditions for growth, how to grow etc. Nice book!

  2. Thanks for the lovely pics!

    Is the yellow flower, plant growing flat on the grass not perhaps an Oxalis?

  3. raGuide to Grasses of Southern Africa by Frits van Oudtshoorn, published by Briza. Waiting for you in Cape Town ........

  4. Oh, Ima Dummy. For SA. Ha! :)

  5. Gorgeous. That's what they all are. A great way to perk up a Sunday. thanks.

  6. Love all the beautiful close-ups of those gorgeous blooms, such diversity of shapes and colors. I love it!

  7. What beautiful flowers and what a truly amazing experience you are having! As a South African now living abroad ( like you), these pictures are making me so homesick! Love your blog and pics.

  8. I second Lyn on the Oxalis.

  9. Nice photos, the yellow flower is a species of Sebaea.

  10. Hi Marie, the yellow Sebeae is S. grandis, quite a common specie in KZN and N/E Free State in grasslands. The Erica is E. woodii, its often overlooked esp when they're not in flower, as its such a small plant and the flowers so very tiny! Actually very common specie in mountain grasslands of SA, there's about 9 species of Erica in our region, the most conspicuous probably E. cerinthoides (fire heath). The Gladiolus: G. crassifolius, common in mountain grasslands and quite variable. The Hibiscus looks like H. trionum, an exotic weed from the Meditaranean. The top Habenaria is H. falcicornis as you've guessed, I agree on the bottom pic it resembles H. dives. The yellow daisy flower does not have any bristles or thorns on the flowering stem?, then I'd suspect, its Haplocarpha scaposa (tondeldoosbossie). The rest is very accurate indeed! Lovely images! Regards, Wim

  11. I forgot the Helichrysum! its H. cooperi. On Grasses, Prof Moffet of Qwa-Qwa University published a book years ago, when you're in SA again, you can purchase it at the Basotho Cultural Village, image below of book:


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